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Srilekha Veena, Marketing Analyst, ManageEngine
Spectre and Meltdown: Firmware flaws finally factor into security strategies

Spectre and Meltdown: Firmware flaws finally factor into security strategies

As the world reels from the effects of infamous ransomware attacks and the GDPR conundrum, another pair of cyberthreats has surfaced to make matters worse. Meet Spectre and Meltdown. These two newly discovered firmware-level vulnerabilities can create an opening for attackers to hijack passwords, cookies, certificates, IP addresses, and other sensitive information stored in the processor’s cache.

 

Meltdown has the potential to pave the way for other forms of cyberattacks, such as Rowhammer—a DRAM vulnerability that allows attackers to hijack data by repeatedly accessing (hammering) a row of memory, causing bit flips in adjacent rows of memory. In short, Meltdown helps attackers gain kernel privileges. Spectre, on the other hand, doesn’t react to software patches, and can be mitigated with updates to the microcode. The permanent solution for both flaws, however, would be to replace existing processors.

 

The immediate action plan for enterprises (of all shapes and sizes) is to avoid possible security breaches by applying software patches on time. It’s important to note that while devices can be shielded from Meltdown with existing patches from the major players, Spectre cannot be mitigated the same way. According to Intel, multi-tenant systems such as data centers and servers have shown a decline in performance speed of up to 25 percent after installing updates related to Meltdown and Spectre. However, these patches are said to have an insignificant impact on client systems running consumer applications.

 

Enterprises that sail on a sea of sensitive data, such as credit card numbers, IP and MAC addresses, and IMEI numbers, will have to take these threats seriously. If certain data is being collected simply because it has always been collected, perhaps now is the time to take a step back and analyze if it’s really worth collecting. Without sensitive data to take, hackers will be deterred from breaching a network.

 

At the moment, there’s no permanent fix for these flaws—not until the next generation of processors are developed—which is why it’s imperative for enterprises to rule out the possibility of breaches by patching their systems regularly. The key to mitigating these security flaws is timely detection and patching, but that involves a lot of manual effort, which translates into having a dedicated IT resource to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.

 

As digital transformation turns businesses towards personalisation and ubiquitous connectivity, attackers will find new ways to undermine security systems and hijack data riding on top of hardware and software. But with the evolution of IT threats comes the evolution of preemptive solutions, too.

 

With Meltdown and Spectre upon us and new cyberthreats built to exploit these flaws waiting just around the corner, IT decision makers now have a choice to make. They can either continue to ignore security threats, or they can leverage the power of insightful and responsive IT management solutions to detect and mitigate breaches in real time. Such intelligent systems will not only minimize the manual effort needed to set up an incident surveillance system, but will also help build an active response infrastructure and mitigation strategy to stay on top of any incidents in the future.

 

Data-hungry hackers are sure to leverage these processor flaws and more—regardless of the ethical or legal ramifications—but with a well-equipped, solid IT infrastructure, you won’t be caught off guard when the next major security breach happens.

About Dean Alvarez

Dean is Features Editor at IT Security Guru. Aside from cyber security and all things tech, Dean's interests include wine tasting, roller blading and playing the oboe in his Christian rock band, Noughts & Crosses.

You can reach Dean via email - dean@itsecurityguru.org